Any additional reassurance that Donald Trump is not an American Adolf Hitler was provided by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) last Tuesday. That is the same North Korean government entity that previously announced that North Korea had invented not only the hamburger but also a drug that cures AIDS, Ebola and cancer. So if the KCNA likens POTUS 45 to Der Fuehrer, you know it is almost certainly untrue. What is interesting is that plenty of smart people outside the information bubble of the Hermit Leninist Party-State were drawing that same historical parallel earlier this year. The reason they have stopped will make you feel a little better about America.
Why Pyongyang’s propagandists decided to indulge in Nazi-baiting now rather than months back when it might have resonated at least a little is uncertain. Perhaps it is a function of their inability to gauge American public opinion. However, we do know why a lot of smart Americans were comparing Trump to Hitler in the first months of 2017. Some of the prompts are obvious: the crude economic nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric, the mobs of gun nuts, racists and neo-fascists at his post-election rallies, and POTUS 45’s amusing resemblance to overweight cartoon authoritarian Germans. Think Hermann Göring in lederhosen in Fritz Freleng’s “Herr Meets Hare” 1945 Bugs Bunny cartoon and Burgermeister Meisterburger, also in lederhosen, in Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.’s 1970 feature “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”
Then there is Trump’s complete inability to admit factual errors. In his memoir, The Hitler I Knew, German Reich Press Chief Otto Dietrich, the Sean Spicer of Nazi Germany, recalled a leader who refused to admit ever making a factual error.[i] Trump’s refusal to admit ever having contradicted himself indicates a comparable contempt for truth. Then there is Trump’s obsession with his own news coverage and hatred for the press as an institution. Dietrich describes Hitler as exhibiting those behaviors as well.[ii] Then there is Trump’s cultivation of Alex Jones and the delusional conspiracist nonsense of Infowars. Hitler cultivated Julius Streicher, editor of Der Stürmer, a national newspaper with a mass audience whose conspiracist content was ugly but almost tame by comparison.So why isn’t Trump an American Hitler? The answer is that our liberal democratic political institutions and political culture combined with his own bumbling have aborted any possibility of dictatorship. What Trump has been hearing again and again from the press, academia, judiciary, Federal agencies, and state and local governments is ‘no.’ ‘No.’ The latest embarrassment is the refusal of state governments to comply with the preposterous request from Kris Kobach’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for voter data, including party preference, military service and criminal conviction records, and social security numbers.
Public opinion in the United States has soured on Trump more quickly than any modern president. Democrats never trusted him. Independents have learned to distrust him. Smart Republicans are increasingly uneasy. The self-indulgent, irresponsible billionaire and lying con man are simply too easy to recognize. Which points up another reason why Trump could never be an American Hitler. Dietrich described Hitler as unable or unwilling to use persuade foreign public opinion. Ditto for Trump. However, Dietrich also noted that Hitler never lost the ability to persuade most Germans because he knew who they were and what they wanted.[iii] Trump’s ability to persuade Americans of anything is rapidly evaporating because he hasn’t a clue who most of us are or what we want.
Where Hitler could speak extemporaneously and make sense to Germans, Trump is unable to make sense to Americans even with a simple script to follow. Examples abound. Responding to Buzz Aldrin’s “To infinity and beyond” quip at the announcement of the resurrection of the National Space Council just last Friday, Trump said the following: “It could be infinity. We don’t really don’t know.” Most tragic of all is the exposure of a U.S. President unable to filter his communications as he spews bile and nonsense on Twitter. On Sunday he tweeted a video of himself assaulting a figure with the CNN logo superimposed on its head. What all this suggests is that Trump fails to grasp the importance of his official duties and may not be in his right mind.
The good news is that Trump has no hope of ever having the sort of power over Americans that Hitler exercised over the Germans. He cannot ever move us to make great sacrifices in the name of some megalomaniacal project. The bad news is that until removed from office Trump can still do terrible damage to America and to the world. We know how to say ‘no.’ Now we need to remember how to say ‘out.’
Otto Dietrich. The Hitler I Knew: The Memoirs of the Third Reich’s Press Chief. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
[i] Dietrich, The Hitler I Knew, 8.
[ii] Ibid, 117.
[iii] Ibid, 12.